Debate - Opinion in English, Russia and Baltic States
Debate - Opinion in English
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Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2001. Moscow News Three-Day Visas to Be Introduced From Feb. 1 By Robin Munro Visa hassles for many tourists are to be reduced from Feb. 1 2002 with the introduction of fast-track, three-day visas. Applicants should be able to order the visas through selected tourist agencies two or three days in advance and collect them upon arrival, the head of the governments tourism department, Nathela Shengelia, said in an interview. Shengelia said that the visas are to be available for $35 at six entry points -- but only citizens of Schengen Agreement countries, Britain, Switzerland and Japan will be eligible. She said Tuesday that not all countries are included because the new visas are an experiment on a one-year trial, as a result of negotiations between the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, of which the tourism department is a part, and the Foreign Ministry. "The planned date for the start of the experiment is Feb. 1, but everything will depend on the readiness of the Foreign Ministry," she said. "If the experiment goes well, it will be extended." A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the ministry is considering fast-track visas, but it was not known when a final decision on them would be made. The idea of such visas is not new. St. Petersburg and Moscow authorities announced such visas would be introduced in the summer, but this did not happen. No explanation has been given. Shengelia said the exact conditions had yet to be decided, but the experiment would simplify the visa process for citizens of the selected countries. "At the moment, our visas are more expensive, more complex and sometimes they take longer to get," she said. The visas are to be available at Moscows Sheremetyevo Airport Terminal 2, St. Petersburgs Pulkovo international airport, Bagrationovskoye and Mamonovo on the Polish border in the Kaliningrad region, and Brusnichnaya and Torfyanovka on the Finnish border in the Leningrad region, Shengelia said. "Last year, tourist numbers from the far abroad [non-CIS countries] rose by 15 percent, and I expect the same to happen this year and next year," she said. She said 3,340,000 tourists from the far abroad had visited Russia last year and 3,183,000 in the first nine months of this year. The department estimates the average such tourist comes for an average of 6.5 days, spending $120 a day. Irina Tyurina, spokeswoman for the Russian Association of Tourist Agencies, said the visas would be a breakthrough for the external tourism market. "Many people who would like to visit Russia -- which is well endowed with tourist attractions -- are unable to do it," Tyurina said. "We hope people who have never been here before will come for three days, take in some sights, and maybe come back for a longer stay." RATA saw the move as a first step in the total simplification of visas for citizens of economically developed countries, who pose few immigration or terrorism problems, she added. Irina Kulagina, the senior area director of corporate sales for Marriott Hotels of Moscow, praised the initiative. "Currently, the problem with Russia is the visa," she said. "For most people it is a very complicated and time-consuming process. This is not something you can do within a couple of days -- just decide and go -- but have to plan in advance, contact the travel agent or book a hotel room, get the visa support letter, book the flight. This is where fast-track visas are essential." Helene Lloyd, marketing director of Tourism, Marketing & Intelligence in Moscow, agreed. "Its a great move," she said in a telephone interview. "It means people can come for long weekends who previously wouldnt bother to. It will be very good for the development of St. Petersburg and Moscow as city break destinations. Various places like Prague, Budapest, even Tallinn have developed quite well because a lot of Europeans go away on a Friday and come back on a Monday." Charles Otter, the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel and Business Centers sales director, also welcomed the news. "Moscow is being seen as a safe destination and I think it will really benefit the leisure business," he said. The Schengen Agreement countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
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